The intensity of nightmares is rarely matched in celluloid but Hereditary isn’t like most other horror films. While it does pay homage to the greats before it, Hereditary combines family drama and paranormal, psychological terror into a giant cluster of disturbing storytelling unlike anything else. The track record for great horror films from A24 continues with its most unnerving release yet.
Despite the extraordinary circumstances the characters of Hereditary find themselves in, the reality of strained relationships is always at the forefront of the drama they face. Whether it’s loss of a matriarch or paranormal activity, a family’s unraveling is the fuel that burns everything down into a smoldering nothingness built of shame and tragedy. A lot, if not most horror films tend to insert some kind of humor into the story as a means to give its audience a break from the otherwise macabre nature that horror films tend to focus on. Films like The Babadook and now Hereditary do not. There is no hope to be found here.
Hereditary is an abnormally disturbing trek into multiple understandings of hell and all that it entails. It is a practice in the act of nightmare creation. Everything about this film creates one very clear message, that nothing is going to be okay. The cinematography is unique with a constant underlying style that evokes paranoia and nervous energy from it’s expertly shot opening scene to its mind boggling, ripped from the depths of Satan’s wet dreams, climactic horror show ending. The camera angles and wide shots make it feel as if this family is being watched, by someone other than the audience, without permission.
Toni Collette plays the mother of a tattered family confused by its lack of tears for the loss of her own mother. As they attempt to move on from a dark chapter of their lives it would seem loss simply isn’t done with them yet. In her despair, the mother turns to something she doesn’t understand for some semblance of hope that maybe not all is lost and gone forever as she once believed. Through her naivety a presence is conjured and thrust upon those she loves most. In her attempts to right her wrongs she begins to spiral into insanity and even when she’s right, her family begins to distance themselves from her erratic behavior. The strain of loss it would seem is too great an obstacle for this faltering family to overcome.
Distrust plagues this family and the ones they love most are the ones they must fear. The definition of family is an abstract concept here as past relatives make a very unwanted return home. The place they covet and call their sanctuary quickly becomes a cage locking them in with all the delusions and violence they can muster. As things escalate, their nightmares become a place of solitude, a means of escape from their hellscape reality. They are prisoners in a realm of absurdity and chaos that holds no hope for survival, at least in a way they can comprehend.
The most brilliant aspect of this film is the combination of horror sub-genres it implements to create a wholly new approach to both psychological terror and spiritual panic. In its first act the film focuses on the damaging effects of loss and how a lack of coping with the issue is detrimental to one’s health. As the desire to survive the emptiness grows, the second act focuses on extreme measures taken to circumvent the loss entirely but ultimately causing more harm than good. In the third act everything crashes into a giant pile of physical, mental, and spiritual pandamonium. And as the end credits begin to roll you will be left unhinged and shell shocked.
In my experience, among the hundreds of horror films I’ve seen, Hereditary ranks among the best of them. It is relentless in its execution and aims to distress and frighten you to your very core. The stylistic choices make an already scary scenario downright blood-curdling. The acting elevates the moments of tension and terror to levels that may cause anxiety attacks. All these elements combined make Hereditary a modern day horror masterpiece. It will stay with you long after it ends and seems to do so with an ominous sneer.
Rated R For: horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Runtime: 127 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd
Directed By: Ari Aster
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Absolutely
Check out the trailer below:
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